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Weißbier Compass PDF Print
Contributed by Hubert Hanghofer   
May 12, 1996 at 12:00 AM
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Weißbier Compass
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Weizenbier (wheat beer) is a top fermented beer specialty of old Bavarian -Alpine brewing tradition. Berliner Weißbier, a.k.a. Berliner Weisse and Belgian Wit -wheatbeers as well- are distinct beerstyles not covered by this article.

The known name Weißbier (White Beer) resulted to make a distinction to bottom fermented Braunbier (Brown beer), a lager style that came into fashion in the middle of the 18th century because of improved brewing methods (lagering in ice cellars). Weißbier was appreciated highly by the drinking audience for being a light and refreshing summer -beer. Originally the name Weißbier was a collective term for all Bavarian pale ales and thus it referred to light barley ales (O.G. P8=1.032) as well as full-bodied (P12=1.048) wheats. Until the beginning of this century shares of one third wheat malt were usual. However -German brewing scientist Hess described a wheat brewery already in 1850 that used wheat malt exclusively. Today's regulations specify a share of at least 50% malted wheat.

Nowadays also dark Wheat Beers are common and very popular. Whether you are in a bar in LA or a hotel in bournemouth chances are you'll find a wheat beer on the menu. Roasted malts, Caramel-, dark wheat- and/or Munich barley malts are frequently used for coloring, creating a distinct maltiness -full bodied with a sense of sweetness, sometimes exhibiting roasty or even smokey flavors. Though dark brands are erroneously also called Weißbier, the generic term Weizenbier (Wheatbeer) should be used instead.

Traditionally, secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle (bottle-conditioning). This Hefe-Weiße or Hefe-Weizen contains yeast sediment and occasionally shows a durable, natural cloudiness, caused by proteins. While bottle-conditioning is still widespread, tank conditioning is increasingly applied today. Yeast slurry is then added at bottling.

To increase durability on storage and transport, pasteurization methods are used frequently like e.g. adding (pasteurized) yeast to filtered and pasteurized wheat beer or bottle pasteurization.

Kristallweizen (Crystal Wheat) on the other hand is filtered prior to bottling and its appearance is thus blank and "crystal" clear - hence the name.

An old electoral Bavarian decree of 1803 says, that beer should "sparkle strong and foam high, carry the characteristic bitterness of the hop, cause a cool and refreshing feeling on the palate and the tickling taste has to communicate with the sense of smell."

This historical definition is still mostly up to date except the fact that nowadays Weißbiers don't exhibit hop characters - especially bitterness. The counterpoint to the predominant fruity and malty flavor is rather set by high carbonation. The particular, fruity aroma - partly reminding of bananas, clove, melons and/or vanilla - is produced by the yeast. Yeast management therefore is of great importance to Weißbier breweries! They normally use a young, fresh and vital yeast. Many Wheatbeer-drinkers enjoy their "Hefe Weizen" even with its sediment. There are some objections to that. -When tasting and judging natural-cloudy beers you should consider:

  1. Yeast covers up the beer aroma.
  2. With brands fermented in the bottle there is furthermore cold break in the sediment that, once poured out, has additional influence on the aroma.

Therefore I suggest evaluating flavors in two steps: First pour out the beer -just as it is- and leave the bottle quarter-full. Now taste the beer, natural-cloudy to nearly clear, but without sediment. Finally - if you wish - suspend the sediment by gently rotating the bottle and "put on a yeast-head" onto the beer.

Flavor and aromas develop best in fresh, cold lagered weissbier and decline distinctly during longer storage. The ideal drinking temperature is said to be 8-10°C (46-50°F). Because the aroma develops better at higher temperatures, I personally prefer 12-15°C (59°F). Weissbier should be drunken out of special slim and waisted glasses; clinking is done with the massive glass-bottom.

Last Updated ( Jun 22, 2005 at 09:32 PM )
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